This month Eames Fine Art will be exhibiting a collection of Etchings and Prints by Norman Ackroyd RA – to celebrate his 80th birthday. The exhibition brings together work spanning seven decades of art-making. The show tells a fascinating story of Ackroyd’s lifelong voyage in making pictures. In this interview we spoke to Eames Fine Art directors Vincent and Rebecca Eames as well as Norman Ackroyd himself to find out more about this very special exhibition.
Lisa: It is fascinating to see some of the earlier Norman Ackroyd works that are on show, alongside the plein air etchings that have become his signature in recent times. How would you describe the creative journey that Norman Ackroyd has travelled on throughout his career?
Norman: It is normal in early years to be influenced by the times and surroundings as one tries to find one’s feet and direction.
Vincent & Rebecca: The earlier works that are on show in the gallery are clearly affected by art school and the artistic circles that Norman associated with during those years. The style which he is so well known for now is what grew from all he learned in these early years combined with his love of working around the British Isles. That takes time for any artist, and it is part of the process and the joy of the journey; indeed Norman is still learning and developing ideas and techniques now, seven decades on.
Lisa: I had never really realised fully that Norman takes his copper plates out into the field, painting in response to a subject with the acid as if it were watercolour. Of course it makes full sense to me, as they are just brimming with atmosphere and a sense of place. But what do you think it is about the process of etching that makes it the perfect medium for his work – why not stick to watercolour?
Norman: Although there are obvious process differences, there are many, many similarities between plein air watercolours and plein air etchings.
Vincent and Rebecca: Watercolours are often the first step – the spring board, for the etchings. When he makes his journeys around coasts and landscapes Norman always has a watercolour sketch pad with him. Never working from photographs, Norman has always preferred to work directly with his subject in front of him. Although he is known to sometimes also begin to etch his plates out in plein-air, most of them are worked up in his Bermondsey Studio using the watercolour sketches as his guide. The etching method, building up layers of tone which seem to unveil the landscapes in the work is not so different from making watercolours, but Norman enjoys the fact that working with etchings slows the process down and allows him more time to think about the work.
When talking to Norman about his work I find that if we are discussing a watercolour he is most animated when discussing the place it depicts, but when we focus on an etching he cannot wait to talk about the methods of the mark-making process he used and which parts of the etching he is most happy with. I can’t imagine Norman ever giving up printmaking!
Lisa: How does Norman feel about the work he made back in the 1960s?
Norman: Even though I went in several directions there was always a landscape undertow. Looking back I see the diversity as interesting and entertaining.
Vincent & Rebecca: When we started to pull out some of his earlier work in preparation for this show, Norman seemed delighted at the work from the 60s and 70s. He was always so inventive and creative through the medium of etching and I think it was a joy for him as much as us to see some of the methods he used and mastered so early on.
It is really so interesting to see works from different stages of Norman’s career all in one show and from this you can see that landscape was always at the heart of what he was meant to do as an artist.
Lisa: I’m interested in the combining of fragments of Norman’s favourite poetry, printed on to Japanese paper and interleaved with the etching in his latest ‘Box Set’ of 12 works. Can you tell us which poems he has chosen and how they relate to the images? How are the images influenced by the text?
Norman: The poetry fragments stand about but are generally describing landscape. They do not refer specifically to the images and vice versa.
Vincent & Rebecca: When compiling the ‘Fragments’ boxed set, Norman selected his favourite landscapes to etch again, and he also chose a selection of his favourite poetry. These images and words are ones which he returns to time and time again – you might almost say is haunted by. The Fragments boxed set is almost as if we had walked around his studio and home pulling down images and scraps of paper with lines of poetry on since these truly are the works he has around him – influencing his daily thoughts.
The etchings in ‘Fragments’ are of familiar landscapes to anyone who knows Norman’s work – but instead of returning to his original etchings he has made new works – looking again at his watercolour sketch books and visualising the landscapes in a new way.
Lisa: How important is drawing to your process?
Norman: Drawing is fundamental. I see watercolour as a drawing medium and, of course etching is all about drawing.
Lisa: Finally, can you tell us about the work involved in putting this show together? Was it difficult to access some of the works in private collections?
Vincent & Rebecca: The idea for the exhibition came about when we had a very lively conversation we had with Norman, over a bottle or two of wine, about his 80th birthday and how long he has been producing such wonderful work. A show full of his work from the seven decades felt like the perfect way to celebrate a meaningful birthday. The idea complemented his latest work the Fragments boxed set as well, and so the idea started to take shape…
All of the works in this exhibition came from Norman’s private collection. We spent a couple of wonderful days with Norman going through old planchests in his studio, pulling out works which we hadn’t seen before and which Norman hadn’t looked at for many years.
All but the very earliest etching from 1959 are for sale in the exhibition, but in most cases this truly is the last available work from the edition so these are very rare prizes indeed!
Norman Ackroyd ‘Fragments’ is on show at Eames Fine Art, 58 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3UD until 7th October 2018. For more information visit http://www.eamesfineart.com/events/view_event.cfm?event_id=195
Header Image: Norman Ackroyd with Vincent and Rebecca Eames at the private view of ‘Fragments’, at Eames Fine Art, September 2018.